A child of immigrants, Cristina Zottola, MD, grew up hearing stories about her grandmothers giving birth in settings with limited resources. So when she finished medical school, it was a natural for her to choose obstetrics/gynecology as her specialty.
“I was driven not only to learn the intricacies of women’s health, but also to ensure that one day I’d be able to give back to the global community of women who are under served,” said Dr. Zottola, now a resident at Lenox Hill Hospital.
To realize that goal, she connected with Saving Mothers, which is dedicated to preventing maternal death and birth-related complications in communities with low resources. The nonprofit works with local health care providers in places such as Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Uganda to provide life saving care and continuing education.
Women in developing nations are 43 times more likely to die during childbirth than women in developed nations; 75 percent of those deaths are preventable with basic health care.
Last April, Dr. Zottola traveled to Santiago, Dominican Republic, with a team from Saving Mothers. And thanks to support from Eric Cioe-Pena, MD, Northwell Health’s director of global health, Dr. Zottola brought much-needed supplies for the clinic: more than 4,000 baby blankets, 500 hemorrhage kits, thousands of baby hats, suture kits, chucks, alcohol prep pads, hand sanitizers, scalpels, hospital gowns and shower curtains (used to protect mothers from the bare floor, where they typically give birth).
“Dr. Pena collected thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies for me,” said Dr. Zottola. “And he loaded up his own car to get it to me. And he was just so nonchalant about it. That kind of grace is what global health is all about, I think. I am so lucky to have his support.”
Saving Mothers focuses on building clinical capacity in the places its team visits, rather than sending clinicians somewhere to give treatments and then leave. In Santiago, Dr. Zottola worked with Saving Mothers team members to teach laparoscopic techniques to the local medical staff.
"The goal was to teach residents and attendings some of our methods of treatment and laparoscopy,” Dr. Zottola said. The group taught ultrasound, laparoscopy and ob/gyn, and worked hand-in-hand with residents on the obstetric and gynecological floors, and in surgery. She added, “We did a lot of hysterectomies, both vaginal and laparoscopic. We did a lot of urinary incontinence surgeries and transvaginal tape procedures.”
Dr. Zottola is still in contact with some of the residents in Santiago, who text her about cases they’re seeing and procedures they’ve done as a result of what they learned from Saving Mothers. She hopes to return to Santiago this November to extend that impact.
“This trip was one of my most rewarding experiences in residency thus far, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of Northwell and Dr. Cioe-Pena. When you get this kind of support as a resident, it means a lot.”